After Kentucky's 116-49 win over Lipscomb on Friday, the Wildcats talked about their near-record-setting night.
They reflected on their impressive streak of four consecutive games with 20-plus assists. They were asked about how eight different players had scored in double figures.
But in the middle of all that, Bria Goss snuck something interesting in as she responded to a question about their improvement at the foul line in the second half.
"Usually when we go into the locker room, Kastine (Evans) makes a list of points of improvement and things we're already doing well," Goss said.
It's a common visual, a coach going to the whiteboard at halftime to highlight areas for a team to improve. For a player to do it is another story, even a senior leader like Evans.
It turns out, however, that it's not a new thing for UK Hoops.
Matthew Mitchell started it a few years back as he searched for ways to maximize the 15 minutes the Cats spend in the locker room for halftime. With that goal in mind, Mitchell directed his players to gather and assess the first half as the coaches did the same on their own.
"We just wanted to make sure that no matter if you are up or down or where you are, you will have some positive points and some points for improvement in the second half," Mitchell said. "That gives the players more of a focus while we're trying to get our thoughts collected."
As the years have gone by and Mitchell has built his program, he's noticed growth in that halftime routine. More and more, the Cats and their coaches are on the same page.
"It's been really good to see that evolve to what the coaches talk about and we walk in and what the players have written down has really matched up well, which tells you the players are in tune with what we need to be doing to be successful," Mitchell said.
Evans is at the forefront of that, which is why it should come as no surprise that she's the player who wields the marker.
The Salem, Conn., native has accepted every role assigned to her, from coming off the bench and playing out of position in the post early in her career to now starting and serving as UK's second-leading scorer at 12.8 points per game. But regardless of what she's asked to do from a basketball perspective, she's always been a leader.
"I look to the veterans a lot to set the tone in every game and Kastine Evans is a good one as far as knowing what we need to do mentally to prepare," Mitchell said. "She's doing such a great job of that day in and day out in practice and in games. I feel good that we have some veteran leadership right now."
Mitchell will be counting on Evans' leadership this weekend, as UK (5-0) travels for a tough road test at Middle Tennessee State (1-2) on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.
"I think, clearly, the most gifted team we've played to date," Mitchell said. "Middle Tennessee has some really good players and you know they are going to be well-coached. Rick Insell is one of the best coaches in the country and certainly one of the great coaches in women's basketball right now."
UK-MTSU has become an annual series, with the Cats losing the last two times they've traveled to Murfreesboro, Tenn. For the players who were there two seasons ago, the 70-58 defeat is fresh in their minds.
"I haven't won there yet so this is definitely a game that I'm excited to play and really go down there with a lot of intention on winning this game," Evans said.
Behind Lexington native Ebony Rowe, the Blue Raiders won't make that an easy task. Rowe -- a senior forward -- is averaging 20.7 points and 12.0 rebounds.
"She's just a great, great college basketball player," Mitchell said. "I think the world of her; she has a great family, great people. I'm glad to see her have the success she's had, but I'm going to try hard for her to not have any success on Sunday, but that's hard to do with a player like that."
Rowe is certainly a Southeastern Conference-caliber player, helping to make MTSU the closest thing UK has seen to an SEC-level team this season. Add to that the fact that UK will make the same Thursday-Sunday turnaround it will have to throughout conference play and you have a challenge that could benefit the Cats down the road.
"I think it's going to be really good for us," Evans said. "Especially in the next week and a half, we have Louisville coming up, which is a great team. This MTSU team is really dynamic. They always go to the NCAA Tournament so it's always a great opportunity for us, as long as we use it how we should."
And if the Cats aren't doing that through 20 minutes, Evans will have something to put on that whiteboard.
When people think about Kentucky's "40 minutes of dread" style of play, defense is the first thing that comes to mind.
That was certainly the case on Thursday night, as Greg Brown lamented the way the Wildcats "mentally drain" opponents with their pressure after his Lipscomb team committed 32 turnovers in Memorial Coliseum.
But there's a side of UK's signature style that is ignored at times. The Cats don't only apply constant pressure with the way they hound their opponents; they also do it with the way they constantly push the ball.
"Well that's just the goal for us is to put 40 minutes of pressure on you and not just defensive pressure," Mitchell said. "I think the offensive push and the push on misses and makes us hard to deal with."
Sure, UK scored 40 points off Lipscomb's 32 turnovers. Of course, the Cats made the Bisons pay for their mistakes in a 116-49 victory on Thursday.
This Kentucky team, however, doesn't need a traditional fast-break opportunity to get out and run. Every new possession is a chance for a quick basket, whether it comes from a live-ball takeaway, a defensive rebound or even an opponent's basket.
After Thursday's offensive explosion -- which fell just five points shy of the school record for points in a game of 121 -- UK (5-0) is averaging 97.2 points, including 102.8 over its last four games. Against Lipscomb, the Cats had an astounding 92 offensive possessions. For the sake of comparison, the fastest-paced men's college team averaged just 73.2 possessions per game a season ago.
On average, UK's possessions lasted just 12 seconds, with the Cats often shooting before the 10 seconds women's teams now have to cross midcourt. That all begins with Kentucky's two-headed point-guard monster of Janee Thompson and Jennifer O'Neill.
Mitchell opted before the season to split minutes between the two equally, and they have responded. On Thursday, they combined for 27 points and six assists. On the season, they are averaging 20.0 points, 7.4 assists and 3.4 steals as a tandem.
"I'm just really proud of Jennifer and Janee for understanding that that's real, that the goal of that is real," Mitchell said. "It's not to placate one or the other or play mind games so one's not upset."
Mitchell restated his goal after the Lipscomb win that he wants Thompson and O'Neill to, together, become the top point guard in country. Thompson smiled as if to suggest she's heard that a few times before when asked about it postgame, but it's a challenge she's accepting.
"He knows that either one of us could be on the court at any time and he trusts the both of us equally," Thompson said. "So we just try to do our best and give Coach Mitchell whatever it is he's looking for when one of us is on the floor."
The two have come to complement each other well on the court, but that starts well before tip-off.
"I think that starts off the court," Thompson said. "Me and Jennifer have a really good relationship and then that just transfers onto the court."
That's not just idle talk or a quote that sounds good in a press conference either.
"They're really trying to come together," Mitchell said. "I saw them today at pregame meal sitting beside each other. Walked over to CATS (UK's tutoring center), I was driving back after pregame meal, they're walking, they're together."
Together, Thompson and O'Neill are guiding an offense that is clicking on all cylinders. The Cats dished out 22 assists against Lipscomb, marking the fourth straight game they have topped the 20-assist mark.
"That's almost unheard of," said Bria Goss, UK's leading scorer with 18 points. "I've never heard anything like that before, but that just kind of shows you where we are as a team right now."
Goss was one of eight Wildcats to score in double figures, something that had never before happened in school history.
"All of the players are working hard and have put our team in a good position," Mitchell said. "We need to stay very humble, work very hard and stay hungry in practice every day. When we do that we will have a lot of opportunities to win some big games this year and play well."
Azia Bishop had 10 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in UK's win over Central Michigan on Sunday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Earlier this week, Matthew Mitchell announced that senior Samantha Drake will miss the season after suffering a torn ACL and meniscus in Kentucky's win over Central Michigan on Sunday.
Drake -- who will apply for a medical redshirt -- is now in the beginning stages an arduous recovery process that is expected to last seven to eight months.
Mitchell hopes Drake can return in time for the 2014-15 season. If her early approach to the injury is any indication, there's a good chance she will.
"I have been really proud of Samantha, she has responded with a very positive attitude and that is what she needs," Mitchell said. "The only thing we can do now is prepare every day to get herself into a position to get back on that court. It won't be this season, but she can get back on the court next season."
Drake is now the second Wildcat lost for the year, joining freshman Kyvin Goodin-Rogers. Goodin-Rogers was diagnosed with a blood clot before the season and recently returned to limited non-contact workouts, but is still being treated with blood-thinning medication.
"You never know why these things happen, but you have to learn the lesson that is there and you only do that by positive attitude and moving forward in a positive way," Mitchell said. "Both of those kids are doing that and I am proud of the team because they are rallying around them and helping them a lot. It is a good atmosphere from that standpoint."
Drake and Goodin-Rogers are around the team as much as possible while they sit out, but the fact remains that UK has games to play without them, starting on Thursday in Memorial Coliseum against Lipscomb.
The Wildcats began the season counting depth in the post as a strength, but are now down to starters DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker and reserves Azia Bishop and Jelleah Sidney. Stallworth and Walker have played up to expectations thus far, while Bishop has put together arguably her most extended stretch of solid play of her career, making the blow to UK's depth easier to absorb.
"We are fortunate that Azia is playing well, but we had six post players that can play and had talent and could really go," Mitchell said. "Now, we have four that can play and that is a good situation to be in as well."
Playing 15 minutes a game, Bishop has been one of UK's most productive players on a per-minute basis. She is averaging 7.8 points and 6.8 rebounds and has tallied 20 points, 21 rebounds and six blocks over her last two games.
The 6-foot-3 Bishop has had more than her share of moments during which her talent has been on full display, but never before has she been so well-positioned to turn potential into consistent production.
"This has been some sustained progress and that is where we need to be and where we have to stay with Azia," Mitchell said. "We have to keep her progressing. She seems to be in a great spot mentally and emotionally and those are key to you being able to go out and really turn loose and let your physical gifts shine."
Even if Bishop does become the player Mitchell knows she can be on a nightly basis, he knows there will come a time when foul trouble or other circumstances will force him to turn to a backup plan. Fortunately for the Cats, Mitchell has plenty of experience coaching a smaller lineup. UK began its run of success under Mitchell primarily playing four-guard lineups and he won't be afraid to turn to them again this year.
He already has a couple players in mind he believes can play out of position in a pinch.
"We've had a lot of success in the past here with some four-guard lineups and so I think Makayla (Epps) and Kastine (Evans) need to get comfortable with knowing the post position," Mitchell said.
Epps and Evans may be just 5-foot-10 and 5-8, respectively, but they each have a skillset that will allow them to succeed in a more post-oriented role.
"Makayla's strength can help her on defense," Mitchell said. "Get lower and be stronger and maybe keep a taller player away from the basket. She's very athletic, can jump and is very strong on the boards. Kastine's very, very sharp and knows all the plays and plays really hard."
A senior, Evans has proven her willingness to so whatever is asked of her time and time again, from starting to coming off the bench to playing the perimeter to playing the post. Mitchell has been around long enough to understand how precious that kind of team-first mentality is. That's why he was so thankful to see the same thing in Epps even though she's a highly touted freshman when he approached her on Wednesday about stepping into the post.
"Makayla was just very excited about whatever she can do to help the team, whether it's point guard or playing in the post and two or the three. That's a very rare talent, a very rare player, but it's more rare to have a kid with an attitude like she has, that I'll just do whatever you want me to do."
The noise was fairly constant, but it came to a crescendo in the final minutes.
With more than 2,000 sixth graders in Memorial Coliseum for UK Hoops' annual "Class of 2020 Day," the Wildcats were approaching the 100-point mark against Georgia Southern on Wednesday. The kids, eager to see a third digit on the scoreboard, erupted when Bernisha Pinkett hit a 3-pointer to put UK past the century mark with 1:07 left.
"I think it was pretty awesome," Bernisha Pinkett said. "The kids gave us a lot of energy. They were yelling and screaming, making us want to work even harder so we could score more points to make them yell and go crazy."
UK would score once more to close out a dominating 103-38 victory and move to 3-0 on the season. Pinkett led six Wildcats who scored in double figures with 19 points as UK forced 35 turnovers.
"I thought that was a terrific effort from our team to come out on an important day where we have so many people and special guests on campus, who are getting to experience Kentucky for the very first time," head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I thought our players did a great job of leaving an impression on those kids that were here at the game today."
The Cats have had more than their share of blowout victories in their recent run of success under Mitchell, but rarely have they turned in an effort as consistent as this one. In spite of an early wakeup call for the 11 a.m. ET tipoff, UK was solid for 40 minutes.
"I think we just came out today knowing that we were going to win this game but we couldn't take any steps back or come out lackadaisical because they could catch up or make 3s or do anything," Pinkett said. "So we just wanted to focus and stay strong."
More than anything else, that's why Mitchell was happy following the game.
"As a coach, what you would like to see your team do is really come out and hustle and give maximum effort and hold them to a high standard and I thought our team did that today," Mitchell said. "I am very, very grateful to our players for working so hard and giving such a great effort today."
It also didn't hurt that shots were falling for the Cats.
UK hit 40 of 79 (50.6 percent) from the field, including Pinkett's 7 for 9. The senior buried three of her four attempts from beyond the arc, which was a welcome development for a player who shot under 26 percent from deep last season.
"I haven't been knocking down shots as I did in the past and Coach Mitchell always has faith in me and he recruited me as a shooter," Pinkett said. "So just being able to go out there tonight and actually see my 3s start to fall, I felt really good about it."
But as good as Pinkett was from the outside, it was what UK did inside the arc that gave her space.
With the visitors playing a zone defense and UK's strength now in the interior with DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker -- who combined for 25 points and 14 rebounds in just 42 minutes -- the Cats followed their game plan.
"We are trying to get the ball in the paint every possession and whether it comes out of the paint and creates a shot is something that can happen," Mitchell said, "but we just have such a focus on making sure we either pass the ball into the paint or we got our feet in the paint off of a drive."
By doing that, UK piled up 26 assists as a team -- most during the Mitchell era -- led by Jennifer O'Neill and Makayla Epps, who each had six. The Cats have also now dished 25 or more assists in back-to-back games.
"I thought they did a good job of collapsing the zone inside and then moving the basketball and being patient and passing up an open shot to give their teammate a better shot who might be more open," Mitchell said.
And they did it all in spite of not being able to hear each other at times.
"It was one point in the game where Bria (Goss) and I were trying to communicate but we couldn't hear each other because they were screaming for whatever reason," Walker said. "I don't know what we did, but they were screaming. It was fun playing in front of them and I wish they were here every game because it's really fun."